Summary: Discover the rightful place of fear and surrender in the Christian life.
We continue this morning in the portion of Paul’s letter to the Philippians where Paul challenges the Christians at Philippi Community Christian Church to be involved in growing like Christ. Three weeks ago, we looked at Paul’s challenge to these Christians to make his joy complete by their progress in three areas: 1) in their reliance upon God, 2) in their resolve to have the same love, unity and purpose, and 3) in their relating with others in humility.
Then two weeks ago, Matthew Watson taught on Paul’s call for the Philippians to have the same attitude as Jesus Christ. The attitude of Jesus Christ was humility and obedience. Chapter 2, verse 8 reads, "And being found in appearance as a man, he (Jesus) humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!" And so the Son of God, with heavenly splendor, took on human form, and the Creator of life, with the gift of eternal life, surrendered Himself to death. The Righteous died for the unrighteous to save us from the penalty of sin and to reveal His great love to us.
This morning, Chapter 2, verses 12-13, "Therefore," Paul says, "as you have always obeyed - not only in my presence, but much more in my absence - continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."
In other words, God’s salvation does not result only in the promise of Heaven that you and I can claim when we breathe our last breath on earth, but God’s salvation also has a present reality, which is obedience to His purpose. If we are saved for eternal life in heaven, we are saved for obedient life on earth. If we are not exhibiting the obedient life on earth, we might question whether we are destined for eternal life in heaven.
Now nothing that I say this morning should cause you to think that we can work for our salvation, but we can work out our salvation. We cannot earn our salvation, but we can exercise our salvation, which was given to us freely.
Paul says it this way in Ephesians 2:8-10, "For it is by God’s favor you have been saved, through trusting--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
I don’t watch more than four hours of television each week, and last week, I somehow ended up watching the Oprah Winfrey show. One of her guests was a father who was saved by using his daughter’s heart in a heart transplant surgery. The daughter died in a car accident, and the father had a failing heart. The doctor suggested that the dead daughter’s heart be used for the heart transplant the father needed. The father, very unsure in the beginning, finally agreed. He appeared on the show, filled with gratitude for the ability to exercise his new heart.
He didn’t work for his daughter’s heart. He received the heart as an unexpected gift, which now he puts to use in his extended life. Salvation is an unexpected gift from God, which, if we have accepted the gift, we can now put to use in obedience to God in our present life.
Most of us know that salvation promises eternal life in Heaven. But what can we expect from salvation before we get to Heaven? What does the present experience of salvation look and feel like for us who are destined for Heaven? Paul tells us this morning that we, who are saved for Heaven, can expect to progress in our obedience to God through choosing to fear God and through letting God work in us.
Therefore, if you are saved, and you are not making the progress in your obedience to God as expected, you are not choosing to fear God. We see this in verse 12, "as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but now much more in my absence - continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling."
What Paul was noting was that the Philippians were obedient to God while Paul was their pastor many years ago, and now, even more obedient, while Paul is away in prison. The passage of years and the absence of their pastor did not lead to weakening of their faith and disobedience to God’s purposes. If this were a man-imposed obedience, you would expect their obedience to diminish during Paul’s absence.
Instead, the Philippians grew in their obedience to God’s purpose for them. Obedience to God is living out the purpose God has for our lives. But obedience requires that we choose to fear God and not something else. Fear is a great motivator and an equally great de-motivator, and God gave us the gift of fear to help us live out the purpose He has for our lives. Unfortunately, the fall of mankind has caused us to fear many other things besides God.